Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Eye on Iran: Europe Wary As U.S. Scrutinizes Iran Nuclear Deal

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European diplomats say they are increasingly concerned the Trump administration will stretch out its review of the Iranian nuclear deal, undermining the agreement by curbing the economic benefits designed to ensure Iran's compliance. President Donald Trump has attacked the agreement, reached in 2015, as a "terrible deal" for the U.S. European officials have remained publicly upbeat about the U.S. remaining a party to the deal, but diplomats privately voice serious concerns about where the U.S. review is headed. They say Washington is providing little feedback, has given no firm end-date for the review and hasn't made clear who is shaping the process.

Iraq's U.S.-backed prime minister declared victory over Islamic State in Mosul on Monday, but Iran is shaping up to be one of the biggest winners in the struggle with Washington for influence in Baghdad and across the region. Nouri al-Maliki, a former Iraqi prime minister supported by Iran, is campaigning to win back his old job in next year's Iraqi election against Haider al-Abadi, the incumbent favored by Washington. Mr. Maliki has given much of the credit for the Mosul victory to an umbrella group of mostly Shiite militias, many supported by Iran, that he formed in 2014, just before his ouster as premier. The election could determine whether the country tilts toward Iran or the U.S.

A growing number of women in Iran are refusing to wear a hijab while driving, sparking a nationwide debate about whether a car is a private space where they can dress more freely. Obligatory wearing of the hijab has been an integral policy of the Islamic republic since the 1979 revolution but it is one the establishment has had a great deal of difficulty enforcing. Many Iranian women are already pushing the boundaries, and observers in Tehran say women who drive with their headscarves resting on their shoulders are becoming a familiar sight. Clashes between women and Iran's morality police particularly increase in the summer when temperatures rise. But even though the police regularly stop these drivers, fining them or even temporarily seizing their vehicle, such acts of resistance have continued, infuriating hardliners over a long-standing policy they have had a great deal of difficulty enforcing.


Regime change will be necessary before the U.S. and Iran can have substantially positive relations, according to Secretary of Defense James Mattis. "Until the Iranian people can get rid of this theocracy, these guys who think they can tell the people even which candidates they get a choice of. It's going to be very, very difficult," Mattis told the Mercer Island High School Islander in a rare and special interview with high schooler Teddy Fischer. Improving relations with Iran will be particularly difficult, according to Mattis. He noted that any potential rapprochement would be difficult because Iran is not really a democracy. "It's the supreme leader [who] decides who gets to run in," said Mattis. "It would be like having the current American president decide who gets to run in the next campaign, and by the way, when they come in he stays in the White House and the others just kind of rotate through."


For six months now, the Trump administration has been required to notify Congress within 48 hours any time Iran conducts a ballistic missile launch. That requirement will expire at the end of 2019. But even though that's more than two years away, Democrats are already thinking about extending it for another three years. Reps. Ruben Kihuen, D-Nev., and Seth Moulton, D-Mass., proposed legislation last week to extend the requirement all the way through 2022. The bill is a sign that even Democrats are worried, like Trump, about Iran's ongoing missile testing. Members of both parties say those tests are a possible violation of the language related to the Iran nuclear agreement and something that Congress needs to know about as they happen, something Kihuen made clear when his bill came out.

Iran will see a steep rise in its natural gas output and exports after last year's easing of Western sanctions, its deputy oil minister said on Tuesday, adding that recent deals with global firms show they believe sanctions will not come back. Amir Hossein Zamaninia, Iran's deputy oil minister for trade and international affairs, said Iran's gas production would rise to 1 billion cubic metres a day by the end of the year from the current 800 million cubic metres (mcm) per day. He said volumes available for export should reach 365 mcm a day by 2021, which is higher than the exports of the world's top liquefied natural gas producer Qatar.  France's Total signed a deal earlier this month to help Iran increase gas output from the giant South Pars gas field, which the country shares with Qatar.


Israel is planning to establish a Syrian army in the southern region of Syria on the border with the Golan Heights and Jordan to stop Iranian expansion, according to informed Israeli sources. The idea for the "South Syria Army", which will be affiliated with Israel, is based on a close model of the South Lebanon Army that Israel founded and supported during the 1970's. The South Lebanon Army was led by Saad Haddad and later on by Antoine Lahad. The sources said that the idea is beginning to form in accordance with the US-Russian agreement to a ceasefire in southern Syria and prevent Iranian troops, "Hezbollah" and other regime affiliated militias from controlling the region. Israel considers Daraa, Suwayda and other areas on the border with the Golan Heights as political and security interests. Tel Aviv has allies there, including the Druze "Fursan al-Joulan militia" and some sides that claim to be part of the Free Syrian Army. These allies could serve as a foundation for the establishment of the "South Syrian army".


Iran's Arabic-language Al-Alam news network says hackers affiliated to the Saudi Arabian regime have broken into its official Twitter account. Al-Alam said on Monday that the act of online sabotage had been "a hasty reaction" after the Iranian network provided extensive coverage of the liberation of the Iraqi city of Mosul from Takfiri Daesh terrorists. The network said it was not the first time Saudis were directing outrage at Al-Alam's media activities by hacking or filtering its channels and websites. This time, it said, the Saudi-linked hackers engaged in the act of sabotage after the widespread coverage of the heavy defeat suffered by the Daesh terrorists in Mosul. Daesh proclaimed Mosul as its "capital" in Iraq in 2014, when the outfit began a campaign of terror in the Arab country. The Iraqi army soldiers and allied volunteer fighters launched a large-scale, multi-front offensive to liberate Mosul in October 2016.


Three Iranian Christians were sentenced to a minimum of 10 years in jail at the start of the month, coming as the latest blow in Iran's crackdown on Christianity. An Iranian judge sentenced Pastor Victor Bet Tamraz, Amin Afshar Naderi, and Hadi Asgari each to multiple years in prison for illegal "church activities," Bos News Life reported Wednesday. Tamraz was sentenced to 10 years in prison for "illegal house church activities," evangelism, and the printing and distribution of bibles, according to court documents. Naderi and Asgari, both converts from Islam, were charged with blasphemy for abandoning Islam. Naderi, who was sentenced to 15 years, was also charged with "acting against national security" while Asgari, sentenced to 10 years, was charged with "organizing and creating house churches."


The Principlist camp has for some time sought to project a nonradical image, trying to move away from past experiences that Iranian society associates with it. However, these efforts have not always been successful. Indeed, the radical current within the camp continues to remain active - to the chagrin of more influential conservative forces. Most Principlists are actively working to contain radicals within their camp, but their endeavor isn't being helped by pride among Reformists riding on the back of consecutive electoral successes.  On June 7, following the terrorist attacks in Tehran, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei encouraged his supporters to "fire at will" against presumed enemies of the state. His remarks caused an uproar in Iran's political circles. Ten days later, on June 17, Hossein Allahkaram, the leader of Ansar-e Hezbollah, a radical faction of the Principlist movement, said his group would use Khamenei's "fire at will" order against women entering sporting arenas. "

Iranian media outlets have revealed an open message sent by the "Water Foundation" to President Hassan Rowhani warning of "escalating conflicts in Iranian provinces over water sharing in the near future" as the country is facing an unprecedented water crisis. "In the near future, competing for limited water resources will expand, and conflicts over shares will spread across the country," the "Iranian Water Corporation" said in an open statement yesterday to Rowhani, signed by 110 experts, researchers and scientists in the water field. The head of the National Security and Foreign Policy Committee of the Iranian parliament, Alaa El-ddin Boroujerdi has confirmed that the "water crisis" has turned into a security issue and the parliament established the (Water Security Committee) to track the repercussions of the crisis.


Total, the French energy major, is returning to Iran. This week, it announced the first big foreign investment in Iran's vast but capital-starved oil and gas industry since the nuclear accord Tehran reached with the US and five other world powers in 2015. Total left Iran in 2006 because of international sanctions designed to punish the country's atomic ambitions. It is now testing whether the door is really open - or guarded by the US, which under Donald Trump is again fiercely hostile to the Islamic Republic. The lifting of sanctions last year was greeted with euphoria. Iranians sensed the chance to re-enter world markets. Foreign investors scented an emerging markets bonanza on a scale last seen when the Soviet empire collapsed. That optimism has largely been extinguished - but it flickers on.

In recent weeks, U.S. forces have clashed in Syria with regime or Iran-supported pro-regime forces on at least a half-dozen occasions. This has raised concerns that with the impending military defeat of the Islamic State in Syria and the scramble to fill the resulting void, the United States may be on a collision course with Syria and its allies -- Iran, Hezbollah, and perhaps Russia. Escalating tensions elsewhere in the region between the United States, its allies, and Iran have compounded these concerns. So while the United States pursues informal "deconfliction" efforts with Russia, it needs to pursue parallel efforts to avoid a broader conflict with pro-regime forces and Iran. 

At the end of last month, the U.S. State Department quietly published a trove of hundreds of documents detailing the American role in Iran's 1953 coup. In that year, a combined CIA and British plot deposed democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh, an act fueled by Cold War geopolitics as well as Western indignation at Mossadegh's nationalization of Iran's oil assets. The coup may feel distant to Americans, but it lives long in the imagination of many in the Middle East. "This is still such an important, emotional benchmark for Iranians," said Malcolm Byrne, the director of research of the nongovernmental National Security Archive at George Washington University, to the Associated Press. "Many people see it as the day that Iranian politics turned away from any hope of democracy."

Eye on Iran is a periodic news summary from United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) a program of the American Coalition Against Nuclear Iran, Inc., a tax-exempt organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Eye on Iran is not intended as a comprehensive media clips summary but rather a selection of media elements with discreet analysis in a PDA friendly format. For more information please email press@uani.com.

United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) is a non-partisan, broad-based coalition that is united in a commitment to prevent Iran from fulfilling its ambition to become a regional super-power possessing nuclear weapons.  UANI is an issue-based coalition in which each coalition member will have its own interests as well as the collective goal of advancing an Iran free of nuclear weapons.

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